Ottawa police are raising concerns about the safety of children living in “Freedom Convoy” trucks and say their presence “complicates” efforts to end the demonstration.
More than 100 of the trucks remaining as part of the nearly two-week-long protest in downtown Ottawa are estimated to have kids living in them, OPS Deputy Chief Steve Bell told media in a briefing Tuesday afternoon.
“Almost 25 per cent of the 418 trucks have children living in them — children who could be at risk during a police operation,” Bell said.
“There’s a multitude of concerns” he said, citing effects from carbon monoxide, diesel fumes, cold, noise and a lack of access to sanitation on kids.
Ottawa police have tapped the Children’s Aid Society (CAS) for advice on how to proceed with enforcement operations in the downtown core.
They’re not seeking to take the kids out of the trucks or away from their parents at this stage, Bell said, but will follow the recommendations of CAS.
“We’re not at the stage of looking to do any sort of enforcement activity around that,” he said.
“We just think it’s an important factor that complicates and makes this an even more challenging operation.”
Enforcement becoming dangerous, complex for police
To date, police and bylaw officers have issued more than 1,300 tickets for traffic violations, made 23 arrests and have 85 active criminal investigations related to the protest, which began as a response to vaccination mandates but has expanded to include a wide umbrella of anti-government sentiment.
OPS are also liaising with U.S. and international intelligence agencies to track emailed threats to public officials originating outside Canada.
Bell said that OPS worked with Ohio police on Monday to arrest a man accused of phoning in “fake” threats to “deceive and distract” emergency resources.
Efforts to enforce a ban on refuelling and other actions to reduce the convoy’s footprint are increasingly meeting resistance from demonstrators, Bell said.
Police attempting to seize fuel downtown were “swarmed” by a group of demonstrators, he said, resulting in minor injuries to some officers.
“Recent aggressiveness towards our officers is unacceptable,” Bell said.
He also said it’s “greatly concerning” to see the “level of sophistication” from protesters in countering police enforcement operations.
The past few days have seen demonstrators fill jerrycans with water in an attempt to confuse police enforcing the fuel ban and trucks have had their brakes cut or wheels removed to stymie efforts to remove them from the downtown core.
“There’s many layers of complexity to dismantling this occupation,” Bell said.
The deputy chief said that “all options remain on the table” when it comes to possible legal avenues to rout the protest, but did not say whether the city or local force would head to court or petition federal or provincial governments for additional declarations in order to end the protest.
Bell renewed calls from Chief Peter Sloly and Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson on Monday for an additional 1,800 sworn and civilian members to join the OPS from federal and provincial sources.
He reiterated that police have good communication channels with the RCMP, OPP, Sûreté du Quebec and other municipal forces, as well as higher levels of government, but did not say Tuesday whether any of the requests for additional officers have been granted.
Having a larger complement of officers on hand will be key to enforcing the refuelling ban and other efforts to stamp out the convoy’s footprint in Ottawa, Bell said.
“That’s why we’ve made the large ask we have, so that we can have the presence we need to successfully, expeditiously and quickly end this occupation.”